Defending your land against fire

Excerpted from the Capital Press, May 11, 2007

Don’t think it can’t happen. That’s the advice of Pat Houghton, intelligence officer for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which helps state and federal agencies manage and monitor wildfires in Oregon and Washington.

“Basically, prepare your [home] and outbuilding area for the possibility of a fire. Getting into that mindset is the most valuable thing you can do,” Houghton said. He warns that people in rural areas can’t always count on timely assistance, and says, “The more proactive you are, the better.”

Landscape for fire

Keep plants containing resins, oils, and waxes (such as western redcedar or pine) at least thirty feet from your home or other structures. Replace them with vegetation that has a high moisture content such as maples, dogwoods, spirea, daylilies and wild strawberry. Pruning trees and shrubs and removing debris also helps. “You don’t want a bunch of needle litter next to your house,” Houghton said.

OSU has a complete list of fire resistant plants at extension. oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/pnw/pnw590. Buy a hard copy for $6 by calling 800-561-6719, or email puborders [at] oregonstate [dot] edu. To best protect your home and property, Houghton offers this advice:

Be vigilant

Machinery can spark fires or heat up to the point where fine fuels burst into flame upon contact. “On hot, dry days, if you’re out operating equipment, before you head in for the night, be sure to take a pass around where you’ve just been working.”

Have equipment ready

If fire threatens, earth-moving equipment can be used to remove debris and create a fuel break around your home. If you don’t own this equipment, coordinate a plan with a neighbor who does. However, Houghton notes that you should not put your life in danger while trying to save your property. “Anybody who does [this] should know there’s a lot of risk involved and shouldn’t take any silly chances.”

Talk to the experts

When you develop a plan to deal with wildfire, share it with local firefighters. They may have tips on how to improve it. “Be in touch with local fire officials,” Houghton said. Being proactive can literally make the difference between saving your investment and seeing it burn up. If firefighters have the key to your gate, for example, or know where to find it, it can change the outcome of a disastrous situation. In reference to Nevada wildfires in the 1990s, Houghton said, “Engines couldn’t respond because gates were locked.”

Local contacts

Local fire fighting districts: Scappoose Rural Fire District (503 543- 5026) and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue (503 649 8577). Always dial 911 to report a fire.
Visit firewise.org and nfpa.org for more tips on creating a plan for household members in the event of a fire, as well as more ideas for safeguarding your property.
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